Thursday, October 04, 2007

First Farley, and Now This ...

Lisa Moore died today.

If you read the comic strip Funky Winkerbean, you already know what I'm talking about. Lisa, one of the main characters in the strip since its inception, had been dying from breast cancer for several months. We knew it was coming; we just didn't know when, or how the strip was going to handle it. But today, Lisa was led into the great beyond by a tuxedo-clad Death. (It was handled much more tastefully than I've just made it sound, trust me.)

Tom Batiuk, the cartoonist behind Funky, has caught a lot of flak for bringing such a depressing subject as terminal cancer onto the "funny pages". I can't identify with such criticism. I mean, it's not as though Mary Worth or Rex Morgan or Dick Tracy or (for heaven's sake) Prince Valiant ever had any pretenses toward humor. (Or, for that matter, B.C. But I digress ...)

Funky is just the latest funny comic strip to adopt the concept of the Very Special Episode. Heck, the recent story arc has included the discovery of an adopted teen's birth mother (the late Ms. Moore), the loss of virginity, and the theft of an old gym locker door (don't ask). I'll take those over evangelical cavemen any day.

Still, I'm personally glad that Mr. Batiuk did what he did. For you see, Lisa Moore is not a fictional character who lives on the comics page. Sadly, there are thousands of Lisa Moores who live in real houses, with real husbands and real children, who really die from real breast cancer. In our celebrity- and politics-obsessed culture, it's a good thing to remind everyone that there are people whom we know who have their own personal tragedies to deal with every day.

It has been no secret that Lisa was going to die today; for months there have been news stories reporting that this morning, she would "breathe" her last. Which brings me to something that I don't applaud ...

I find it ironic that the person who introduced the concept of killing off a major character in a "funny" strip, Lynn Johnston, would apparently seize the opportunity to upstage the heck out of Lisa's final day. Ms. Johnston, you'll remember, executed the Patterson family dog Farley a few years ago in the For Better or For Worse strip. Yesterday, as Lisa was shown about to take Death's hand for her final journey, Ms. Johnston's Grandpa Jim suffered another stroke. We didn't know it was a stroke yesterday, of course. We just knew that Jim's wife was screaming his name in shock. Were we going to lose two beloved comic strip characters on the same day?

And why would Ms. Johnston pick NOW to insert this significant plot point?

Cartoonists strike me as a rather clubby lot (don't we all look forward to the annual Swapping Of The Strips on April 1st?), and you couldn't argue that Ms. Johnston didn't know that today was going to be Lisa Moore's swan song, given that Mr. Batiuk famously creates his strips ONE FULL YEAR ahead of schedule. So what's the deal, Lynn? Why would you (apparently intentionally) try to steal Tom's thunder by having a calamity befall the Patterson patriarch? Could it be that she feels she has a monopoly on death in the funny pages, and scheduled Jim's stroke opposite Lisa's passing out of spite? One can only wonder ...

This should have been a day to celebrate Lisa's (and Mr. Batiuk's) bravery in the face of some very devastating odds. It hasn't quite worked out that way, has it?

posted by Gary @ 7:09 PM

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